thank you milominderbinder x
It was one of the only quiet moments I've had since coming here. Stars mapped the sky above, a sprinkle of icing sugar on a smooth midnight blue sheet. Luke and I huddled together under the blanket thrown over our legs, shivering slightly in the cool night air.
Luke quietly smoked his cigarette, ash billowing away in the windless breeze.
'Couldn't take it in there?'
'Freddie's head is so big right now it's stealing all the oxygen.'
Luke grinned. 'Thank god I smoke. Otherwise I'd never have an excuse to take a break.'
'At least you're being helpful. I'm as useless as they come.'
'No you're not—'
'I can't do magic,' I interrupted, ticking down my reasons with my fingers. 'I can't help with the theory because see point A, and even if I was any good with Charms, I'm not seventeen.'
'You're ridiculous.' Luke shook his head, bemused. 'You just like to think you're not good at anything besides Quidditch. I think you think it makes you a better player than everyone else.'
'Uhh … so not true?'
'Uh, so true. You're good at Care of Magical Creatures, you're not half bad at Defence, you're bloody brilliant at Astronomy—'
'Okay, okay!' I said, going slightly red with embarrassment. 'Forget I said anything.'
'So how was the Hardware store with James then?'
I shrugged, hugging myself tighter. 'Fine. Except—well. Ollie Gamble, the fuck wit, tried to call me out on having a toxic relationship with him. How fucking mental right?'
Luke murmured in agreement, but something about the way it sounded made me look up at him sharply.
'What? Don't tell me you want to tell me how toxic it was too?'
Luke grinned at me, leaning back against the banister of the porch. 'I wouldn't say toxic. Seems a bit harsh.'
I raised my eyebrows, curious.
He sighed and put his cigarette out. 'It's not like he was the most sane boyfriend ever. I feel like even you know that.'
'No, you're right. No point in denying the obvious anymore.'
'So why stay with him for that long then? He's not the only kid at Hogwarts.'
I buried my head in my hands with a groan. 'Oh no. Not you too!'
I felt Luke's hand squeeze shoulder; I turned my gaze back up at him morosely. His blue eyes glinted like a piece of polished white gold. His hand drifted down my back, palm radiating a soothing heat. Slowly, he began tracing letters on my spine.
My brows met quizzically.
'You don't have to always ask me that,' I said out loud.
'Don't I?' Luke muttered. He retrieved his hand back, shoving it between his legs under the blanket.
I straightened up, considering him carefully. 'I am fine. A lot better than I have been in days.'
'But, Jenny, you always say that—'
'Well, it's true!'
'I don't believe you,' Luke said flatly. He gestured towards the closed door. 'You're stuck with him for an entire month and it's not like you're over him—'
'It doesn't matter if I'm over him—'
'But why?' Luke demanded. 'Why do you always say that? Why doesn't it matter how you feel? I don't get it, Jenny. I just don't. I love the guy, but he's a fucking idiot sometimes. You don't owe him anything anymore. He's been a bitch to you, he's with Flora—'
'Not anymore,' I muttered.
'Nothing—never mind. I know I don't owe him anything. Trust me.'
Luke studied me for a moment, not saying anything. Then—
'You're in love with him. I get it.'
'I'm sixteen,' I pointed out unnecessarily. 'I'm not in love with him.'
Luke looked at me like he didn't understand how the two statements correlated. In fact, I wasn't even sure how they did, I just—it just—it was all I could stand to think about it right now.
The alternative—at this point—was quite impossible.
Luke shifted almost imperceptibly away from me, but I still felt the distance as though it was a physical barrier between us. I wondered, then, if I should tell him that he was the reason James and I broke up in the first place. I wondered what he'd think of that. How ludicrous it was? How utterly impossible and insane it would be to imply we fancied each other?
Because it was.
Luke and I have been friends for years—since pretty much first year. He slept around, dated in the loosest sense of the term, hardly even looked in my direction, and yet it was supposed to be believable that he fancied me?
Until I figured this out, until I asked Dom if any of it was true at all, or even close to how James put it, I didn't want to tell him.
'But,' I added, because I hated the silence between us, the obvious irritation that rolled off him in waves. 'It is hard. I hated the idea of this project to begin with and it got even worse when we broke up. James isn't exactly easy to be around when he's being stubborn and things have just gotten exponentially worse—' I stopped suddenly, only just catching myself from saying too much.
Our eyes met over the distance.
'You know … I never did understand … He never told you … the reason why he wanted to break up or anything?'
I considered the question carefully.
'No,' I said finally. 'I never asked.'
I thought I already knew why and then I actually found out why.
'You thought you might come off a bit crazy?'
'I didn't think it would be fair.'
'What do you mean?' Luke straightened up, expression intent, bizarrely focused. 'Fair? To him?'
'To me,' I clarified.
'All right. I'll pretend like that made any sense.' He exhaled sharply through his nose. 'So you obviously still like James. You're not over him and … and I just don't get you. I thought you knew what you wanted.'
My eyes flickered over him sceptically. 'I don't want anything. I don't want him, if that's what you mean. And you can keep saying you think I love him or even like him, but, honestly? I don't. He's a piece of shit for dating Flora. He wasn't even cheating on me so, you know, what was the point? He didn't like her at all. He did it just to …' Make me jealous?
'So—what? You can't think of any other reason than James wanting to be with Flora that he'd break up with you?'
I met Luke's quizzical gold-blue eyes.
'Like what?' I said dryly. 'I want to be with someone else?'
I'd said it sarcastically, a throw away comment that honestly meant nothing other than to point out the ridiculousness of it—but Luke's response was insane.
'Is that so hard to imagine?' he snapped. 'Why were you even with him? You just chose the easiest option. The most obvious. And look where it got you. You've been fucking miserable these past few weeks and I care about you—about both of you—and it's just stupid to watch the two of you act like this. He's out of his mind half the time—you're no better—honestly, I fucking called it the second you guys started dating. Selfishly, and as usual, the two of you think about no one but yourselves.'
Before I could even process my own barrage of emotions—outrage, incomprehension, hurt—let alone get a word out, Luke got up and left.
What the hell was that about?
Dom kneed me in the stomach and that was how I woke up on this fine Saturday morning. Granted, she did it in her sleep but I was still grumbling about it ten minutes later at breakfast.
'I'm so fucking tired,' I groaned into my tea.
'When did you go to bed?' Dom yawned, shaking some cereal into a bowl.
'I don't know.'
I tried to recall a specific time but Freddie and I were up for hours going over The Plan. He almost cried when I told him that Flora was willing to help us. I thought for a second I'd ruined the entire thing, but he babbled about how perfect and ironic all of it was. Then he'd babbled earnestly about story arcs and character development and I had a sneaking suspicion he was writing about this in his journal, but he almost choked me when I tried to steal it and confirm my theory.
'A.M.?' Dom exclaimed, flabbergasted.
'Time is a social construct and isn't real.'
'Shut up. Why did you go to bed so late? What the hell were you two doing?'
I took this opportune moment to tell her the truth-lie Freddie and I had concocted for this exact question. That I'd been mulling over for a while about Freddie's fear, how I wanted to let him know that he should be comfortable telling me whatever it was in his own time, how Freddie had told me he always felt comfortable but didn't want to just blurt it out he was gay, and how we spent a long time talking about our feelings and how important our friendship was to each other.
'OH MY GOD!' Dom screeched, then promptly covered her mouth. She uncovered it and mouthed an unnecessary OH MY GOD at me again. Then she slumped over the kitchen counter, a blissful expression floating across her features. She looked up at me with those sea-glass green eyes. 'Oh my God—I'm so happy he told you. It was the hardest secret I ever had to keep. Probably the only one I've ever kept.'
I made a half-hearted noise of amusement. A slick, uneasy feeling coiled in the pit of my stomach.
I just know that if anyone knows anything about anyone it's Dom.
Why couldn't I just do it? Why couldn't I just ask her and get it over with? What was holding me back?
'Guess what else,' I said, interrupting my own spiralling thoughts before they led me to, you know, action. 'I completely forgot to tell you—I ran into Gamble and Flora in the hardware store with James. He told me I was fucked up. That me and James were arseholes for involving Flora in our messed up games … Gamble's also into Flora, by the way. So he was particularly fucked off. I told him if he didn't stop moaning I'd tell Flora he fancied her.'
'No you didn't!' she hissed, half fascinated, half disbelieving. 'And he fancies her? Merlin!'
'It was so weird and horrible,' I said, stopping whatever fantasy was brewing inside her head. No doubt it included a torrid love triangle between me, Gamble and Flora. 'I thought he was going to kill me.'
'Only you could kiss Oliver Gamble and think he was going to kill you,' Dom said in awe. 'I want to kiss him. I'm gonna get him to kiss me.'
'Didn't you hear what I just said?' I said, half amused, half annoyed.
'Of course—but that's kind of hot … rising up to Flora's defense … protecting her honour …'
'Brilliance and insanity have always been sadly confused …'
I rolled my eyes.
Just then, Freddie lumbered into the kitchen, puffy faced and exhausted. He met our gazes over the counter with beleaguered look then turned to the fridge without a word.
'Someone's grumpy!' Dom said cheerfully.
Freddie ignored her and made himself a bowl of cereal.
'Widdle Fweddie-kins awl gwumpy 'cos he's a widdle baby! Widdle baby didn't get enough sweep?'
He shot Dom a vexed look. 'I hate that voice.'
'Oh do you widdle Fweddie-kins—'
'All right, enough!' I said loudly. Severe sleep deprivation plus Dom and Freddie irritating each other equalled grumpy Jenny. 'It's too early to already be this pissed off!'
'It's part of the Weasley charm,' Dom said, grinning slyly. 'We're unbelievably fit, intimidating and cool but take a second to know us and we're the humorous delights everyone gets pissed off at!'
'And do you have a tag line for how irritating you two are?'
'Who's trying to irritate who?' Luke muttered as he entered the living room, drawing all of our attentions upwards. 'Because everyone talking right now is irritating me.'
'Who pissed in your pumpkin juice?' Freddie said, affronted.
'God I would literally kill for pumpkin juice right now—' Luke wrenched the fridge open, glaring angrily into it.
'Who's killing who?' James asked, suddenly breaking out into a gigantic yawn, stretching as he padded into the kitchen. His gaze raked over all of us, lingering on me for a moment, darkening with insolent devilry. I caught a flash of his smirk as he turned away. 'Why is there talk of homicide so early in the morning?'
'It's me,' I said sweetly. 'They're helping me work out the best way to murder you.'
James raised his eyebrows, obviously amused. 'If you wanted to get me alone Jenny, all you had to do was ask.'
A riotous red blush rose up to my cheeks. 'Yeah, get you alone so I can kill you—'
'Jesus,' Dom said mildly, eyes darting back and forth between us. 'I reckon you two could use a moment. Bang out all your frustrations, you know? Should we give them the house today boys?'
Freddie grinned. Luke snorted.
I turned my simmering gaze slowly to Dom. She smiled pleasantly back, spooning a mouthful of cereal into her big mouth.
'I'm not opposed to killing two Wotters today,' I snarled.
James leaned against the countertop, drinking his coffee, his smirk curling. Dom just shrugged.
'Anyway,' Freddie said, giving me a look of great significance. 'Plans of murder aside—Luke, Dom, get ready and let's get back to work. We have a lot of theoretical ground to cover. James, I need you to find a way to crack those balls open without shattering them. Jenelle …'
'Oh! Right,' I exclaimed, getting up at once and almost upsetting my barstool. I ignored the suspicious look Dom shot me. 'I have … er … to go … somewhere and … do something … very important to our quote!'
'There were literally a million less shady ways you could've said that,' Luke commented airily.
'I'm not up to something!' I protested.
Freddie rolled his eyes and, clearly unable to be in the presence of my incompetence any longer, declared 'I'm taking a shower!' and stalked off.
'You,' Dom said, arching a perfect eyebrow. 'Are definitely up to something.'
'This is where you wanted to meet?' Flora Morgan hissed at me sixteen minutes later.
She stood there, a furious statue, arms so tightly folded across her chest it seemed as though she'd only crack after centuries of decay. Her chestnut waves were piled on her head in an artfully messy bun, loose strands framing and softening her angular features.
'Listen,' I began, and not very promisingly, because it hadn't been long enough to feel this disgruntled with her. 'This is only place we won't draw suspicion.'
'Right! Because there's nothing more suspicious than two girls sneaking off into the middle of the forest!'
'Well done! You just wasted two valuable minutes we could've spent not with each other.'
Flora's glare turned icy. 'Fine. What do you need me to do?'
'At exactly one, you have to leave and get Fig or Newton. Both if you can manage it. You need to look like you've just woken up and heard something. So wear pyjamas or a nightie or lingerie or whatever. No make up.'
She shot me a withering look. 'Thank you for specifying. I would've never thought to do so otherwise.'
Irritation bubbled under my skin.
'One more thing. I need you to get alcohol. A lot of it.'
'Me?' Flora gaped at me as though I told her to give Slughorn a lap dance. 'Are you insane? Where the hell am I supposed to get alcohol?'
'I don't know! Why don't you use that brain of yours! Isn't that what Ravenclaws are known for?'
'Yes,' she snarled. 'Whenever stupid Gryffindor's can't seem to find theirs!'
'Oh for fuck's sake—' I spun around my heel so I wouldn't have to look at her. This was beyond ridiculous. Possibly the stupidest thought I've ever had. Why did I think it would be a good idea to bring Flora into this? She was proving to be more of a nuisance than any help.
'You can't actually be serious,' she went on angrily. 'The grocery store doesn't even have alcohol. What am I supposed to do? Apparate to Diagon Alley? To London?'
London! I whirled back around, beaming, an idea striking me. Flora's mouth turned down in a scowl.
'That,' she said flatly. 'Is the fucking stupidest thing I've heard. And I've been standing here for the past fifteen minutes listening to you.'
'Apparate to Hogsmeade,' I said eagerly, ignoring her. 'Get alcohol from the barman at the Hog's Head. He never says no to Hogwarts students.'
'Not that I'm trying to single out just one problem with this plan—since there are about a thousand—but there's just a little issue with that.'
I narrowed my eyes into slits. 'Enlighten me then.'
'I can't Apparate. I can't even buy alcohol.'
'Take Gamble,' I said automatically. 'He'll do anything for you. All you have to do is ask.'
Flora was silent for a moment. Her entire body radiated waves of anger but I knew her cluster of brilliant of counter-arguments were crumbling. Sure, my plan had about a million flaws in it, but the simple nature of it couldn't be fought. Apparate to Hogsmeade, buy alcohol, Apparate back. Nothing terribly illegal or hard about that. There was no way they would get caught, especially if it was a Hogsmeade weekend. Unless, of course …
'What if we can't Apparate?' Flora demanded. 'I'm not killing Ollie and myself just for your stupid fucking plan.'
Good thing I'd already thought of that.
'Incredible,' I said lightly, savouring probably one of the only moments in my life I knew more than a Claw. 'How narrow-minded a person can be.'
'Clarke, I swear to Merlin—'
'Aren't there spells that can detect Anti-Apparition wards?'
Flora was struck dumb. She opened her mouth to argue, then promptly clamped it shut, clearly furious.
'How am I supposed to convince Ollie to come with me then?' she spat, eyes like chips of ice.
'Tell him the truth. To an extent. Tell him what we're doing. Obviously not the important part. But the rest of it. Tell him you want to have fun or are planning a party with Ella—I don't know Morgan—lie.'
'Tell the truth, lie—you're just full of smart ideas today, aren't you?'
'Just get it done,' I snapped. 'If you sort this out, Freddie and I will sort everything else out.'
'Which house are you choosing?' she demanded.
'The one right next to yours.'
She nodded. 'Okay.'
Flora studiously avoided my gaze, biting her bottom lip so hard it became blood red. Even from her posture I could tell she was worried. Her body language screamed anxiety and stress.
I sighed internally.
'What's wrong?' I asked. 'This is going to work. I guarantee it.'
'It's not the plan I'm worried about,' Flora said acidly, but even then it was half-hearted. 'Even if it's the worst one I've ever heard. It's everyone else. I want to get out of here as much as you do but … I just feel terrible. I don't know how I'll be able to face everyone knowing I got them into so much trouble. There has to be a better way to do this …'
'I know.' A prickly feeling crawled over my skin, making the hairs on the nape of my neck stand on end. 'But I can't think of one and neither can Freddie and we have to do this. This is hell. We need to get out. Unless you have a better idea?'
Flora's gaze flicked up to mine.
'That's the only good thing about this, I suppose,' she said. 'He'll finally get what he deserves.'
An queasy feeling slid into my stomach.
I couldn't tell her that despite the fact that we were doing this get away from him, James couldn't actually get in trouble. I was going to make sure he was as far away from the white house as possible when Newton and Fig came. He wasn't going to be anywhere near them to get caught and punished. There was no way we could afford him to miss the final match between Gryffindor and Ravenclaw … But Flora had to believe that she was getting her retribution from this.
'Yeah,' I lied. 'He'll get what he deserves.'
She stared at me, as if battling with herself mentally whether or not she should add something. When, finally, she came to a decision, it was not what I'd expected.
'I wanted to tell you—because I didn't get the chance yesterday—that I didn't—I mean, James definitely didn't cheat on you. At least, not with me. If that's what you thought. I don't really care if you believe me or not, I just had to let you know … Honestly, I had no idea he was even interested in me until two weeks ago. Now I know he was just … using me for whatever.' She sounded so bitter and broken. 'Bit stupid really. To believe he cared. After all, he'd just broken up with you but I thought …'
'It's okay,' I said, clearing my throat uncomfortably. 'You don't have to explain.'
Desperation flashed in her eyes. 'But I do. It's so fucked up—but you're the only one I can actually talk to about this? God, I am such an idiot!' To my alarm, tears welled in her eyes. 'It's just so so stupid. I'm the longest he's been with someone, apart from you. Did you know that?'
I did, unfortunately.
James didn't exactly do long term before me.
'But I would never be with someone who I knew was dating someone else. I don't even think he would, the fucking bellend that he his. Despite my crush—I knew he was happy with you. I just didn't—didn't deserve to be treated this way … He didn't have to—to make me think …'
I stared in mute horror as Flora spun around suddenly. Her body trembled and I knew at once she was crying but desperately trying not to let it show.
I felt like I was floundering; a fish out of water.
I had to say something. Oh God. Anything.
'Flora,' I began, voice hoarse. Why did I always find myself comforting my ex-boyfriend's girlfriend. 'He's a dick. He broke up with me because of some rumour … he has no idea what he wants or how he hurts people and uses them. He isn't worth it.'
Flora let a sob escape—then she angrily wiped away tears with the back of her hand.
'I'm so sorry he did that to you. He's selfish and self-centred. He's only ever cared about the way he feels … And I am so sorry for that. You didn't deserve it. I can't apologise enough for him dragging you into this. It was completely unfair and uncalled for and just—terrible.'
'It was terrible,' she said finally, sounding like she had a bad head cold. Her eyes were rimmed red, her expression glassy and impassive as she faced me again. 'And he may have been bad to me. But he treated you like shit and we all saw it. I should've known he was only trying to hurt you. To make you jealous.' Her eyes flickered away. 'And he did. Try to make you jealous, I mean. He only ever kissed me if you were around. He looks at you all the time, you know that?'
I swallowed the lump in my throat.
'I don't know how you feel. But he's definitely in love with you. He's finished.'
'Looking,' she said, enunciating the word almost condescendingly. 'Searching. Bothering with anyone else. Some people never stop, some people take years. But he found you at Hogwarts. How often does that happen? Even if he isn't with you, he'll always want to be.'
An icy flood rushed into my veins, setting my very nerves ablaze.
'Why are you telling me this?'
'Because you need to know,' she said viciously. 'How he hurts people just because he can't even stand his own feelings for you. Do what you have to, Jenny. Escape him. Ruin his year. But know that he loves you. For whatever it's worth.'
My mind was whirling, my blood throbbed at my finger tips, the ground swayed beneath me.
'Sometimes … sometimes that isn't enough.'
'No,' Flora said firmly. 'It never is.'
'Luke, can I talk to you?'
The boy in demand looked up from his novel or anthology of poetry or whatever, pleasantly surprised. He shook the gold-blond strands of his hair out of his eyes and swung his legs off the bed. He patted the space beside him. He smiled and, because it was so infectious, I grinned back.
'What's up?' he asked.
'Where are Freddie and James?' I looked around the bedroom, as if expecting them pop their heads out from under a bed.
'I broke one of those glass spheres trying the Severing Charm,' he explained. 'Shattered it to pieces. So they're looking for Gamble. Freddie reckons he can do it cleanly in half. He was a proper fuck about it though.'
'Ha.' I flopped back down on his bed. 'He fancies himself a Ravenclaw.'
'Only with Charms …'
'Enough to gas his head up.'
'True.' Luke grinned. He made himself more comfortable beside me, laying on his side and propping himself up on his elbow. 'So, what did you want to talk about?'
'Freddie and I want to throw a party tonight,' I said, secretly enjoying the way he groaned and pressed his heels of his palm into his eyes. I could always count on Luke to hate parties as much as I did. He was more of a I'll smooth talk my way in your girl's pants kind of guy. He didn't exactly need alcohol or a party to get what he wanted. 'We just couldn't get enough of the last one. Puffs have weak constitutions. They can't cope.'
'So, what?' Luke said. 'Show them how Gryffindors do it?'
'Something like that.'
'Why do I get the feeling you and Freddie are up to something?'
'Very perceptive. Not like I just told you we're planning a party or anything.'
Luke rolled his eyes. 'No—something else. Is it meant to be a surprise?'
Yeah, everyone would be surprised all right.
'Just tell me. I can keep a secret …'
I glared half-heartedly at him. 'No. But you can help—' I shrieked suddenly as he grabbed me by the waist and threw me over his shoulder. Outraged, I squirmed and hit him on his back. 'Put me down Luke!'
'Not until you tell me what you're really doing!'
'I just want to please the masses! Gain their favour and eternal popularity!'
I struggled again, thrashing harder, making Luke snort with laughter, and pushed myself out his hold; the force of it almost made me tumble off the bed. Luke caught me before I could, his arms going around my torso, hoisting me up, half on top of him. Flustered and a little breathless, heart racing, stomach flipping, I moved away hastily, putting some distance between us. An easy grin tilted the corner of his mouth up; eyes turning a liquid gold.
A slow, volcanic fire ignited in my veins. The way he was looking at me … the sudden rush of blood to my head … his owns words bubbled up in my mind: His love for her wasn't realistic … Why had Dom said Luke? It was a lie … You can't think of any other reason than James wanting to be with Flora that he'd break up with you?
'Luke,' I murmured, tearing myself out of my thoughts.
'For the party … I need help fixing a house.'
Luke blinked. 'Oh … right. Yeah. Sure. Whatever you need.'
My limbs felt awkward and ungraceful as we got up. I found myself unable to meet his gaze as we left. Walking beside each other as I led him to white house number two, I felt an inexplicable static charge between us. It was weird and strange and I didn't know how to stop it. I was almost wary of touching his skin; to be close enough to feel his body heat; to smell him. Like I'd be shocked with electricity.
Stupid, really. He wasn't an outlet and I wasn't a metal fork.
'This is it,' I said lamely, gesturing up at probably one of the least damaged houses, aside from ours now, in the row.
Luke walked up to it and I felt immeasurably, instantly relieved for the gulf of space. I took a moment to gather my scattering thoughts.
'We didn't want to do it in anyone's house,' I called up. 'You know—incase it gets trashed.'
'Of course …' The door creaked open as Luke entered. I never even saw him unlock it. Casting a surreptitious look over my shoulder, to check if the coast was clear, I followed after him.
Luke was already waving his wand, muttering repairing spells under his breath. Flora had given me a few cleaning spells to try too and I told Luke about them now. With a few short words, the house was spotlessly tidy, broken bits and bobs repaired and questionable stains removed. It was an empty and immaculate stage for scene tonight.
Luke turned, admiring his own effort.
'Thanks,' I said earnestly.
'Yeah. No worries.'
I couldn't tear my eyes away from him. His gaze arced over the living room and met mine.
'Last night …' I began, throat dry, suddenly nervous. 'You … you said James and I were obvious … What did you mean by that?'
Luke shook his head, as if in a daze. 'I don't know.'
'Yes you do.'
He shrugged, ambling slowly towards me, as if I was prey to approach with calm and stealth.
'It's like you didn't even look anywhere else. He was just there. And you were with him.'
'Where was I supposed to be looking?'
'It doesn't matter anymore …'
'Did you tell Dom I fancied you?' I asked abruptly, dropping all preamble and pretence, only a little alarmed by how close he was getting to me.
Luke stopped in his tracks, taken aback. 'What?'
'Did you tell Dom that I fancy you?'
'No,' he said indignantly. 'Why on earth would I do that?!'
'I don't know! To break me and James up because you—you—you think you like me!'
Luke gaped at me incredulously, eyes wide and astonished, as if he couldn't believe the words coming out of my mouth were English or actually a more comprehensible dialect of Gobbledegook. Chagrin rushed through me, liquid metal blazing under my skin.
Oh … dear god.
Oh dear, merciful and sweet god.
I was officially insane.
'No, shut up, listen—'
'That was stupid of me—I'm such a fucking idiot—'
'That was so, so fucking dumb—I know you didn't, I'm just—'
'Just what? What are you trying to figure out? You think I can't see it? That I don't notice? You and Freddie running around like house-elves the past two days—James pulling you aside every other minute for a private chat—'
'It's hard to explain—'
'Then just tell me!' he said, raising his voice.
'Why!' I shouted right back. 'What do you even want to know!'
'I want to know what's going on with you!' Luke raked an angry hand through his hair and twisted away, unable to even face me. 'Can I not have an interest in your life?!'
'You can,' I said angrily. 'But I can still have secrets. I don't need to tell you everything.'
'You don't tell me anything!'
'Well,' I blustered. 'I'm sorry if you feel left out—'
'Left out? I don't feel left out—I feel—I feel—' Luke stopped abruptly. His features suddenly became a mask of determination. He stalked up to me and, before I could even process his proximity, he kissed me hard, with bruising force.
'Argh!' I pushed him away roughly and he stumbled back, stunned.
He's stunned?! HIM?
'What the hell was that!' I cried, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand, eyes wide with furious incredulity. Confusion and horror simmered inside me, incandescent and boiling, sloshing and tipping over my edges.
What the hell, what the hell, what the hell!
'Why did you do that?!' I had to physically stop myself stomping my foot. 'Why the fucking hell would you think that was okay?! You can't just—just—go around kissing people!'
'What! And you kissing Gamble was just fine?!'
'Yes it was!' I gaped at him, astonished that he would even dare to compare the two. 'Are you crazy? Why, Luke? Just why?'
'Because I—I do—I like you—'
'Ugh! No you don't you idiot!'
Luke groaned. 'Are you genuinely telling me how I'm supposed to feel?'
I clenched and unclenched my fists, gnashed my teeth, and paced away from him. I refused to meet his gaze—I would refuse him everything from now on—the stupid, stupid clown!
'Jenny, will you listen to me? I didn't want to tell you like this. But I've been waiting—I've been waiting weeks—and I've kept a respectful distance. Making sure you were okay, even though this is apparently what you wanted—and then when you kissed me at Dom's birthday—'
I whirled around, face an incandescent contortion of fury. 'WHAT? WHAT ARE YOU EVEN TALKING ABOUT?'
Luke glared at me. 'You kissed me? At Marisa's party?'
I wanted to protest—wanted to tell him he was a stupid clown out loud. But I was momentarily stunned, as though I'd been Stupefied. My head spun dizzily out of control—fighting furiously to shove the rising memory, the truth of Luke's words, back into the pit of Repressed Black Out Mistakes—I blinked—I opened my mouth wordlessly—then closed it, gaping like a fish—
'No …' I said blusteringly. 'No … I … I didn't …'
'Great! How convenient for you! You just love reorganising reality to suit you, don't you?'
'I don't love it …' I didn't know what I was saying; the shock had made my mouth numb. 'Honestly … you have to admire my brain's self-defence mechanism …'
'What do you want me to say?' I asked breathlessly, still dazed.
How had I forgotten? And—oh my fucking god—Dom!
Did Dom know?!
Gaping horror seeped into my skin.
'Why tell James you want to be with me then? Why tell Dom? It's clearly not what you want! I'm just so fucking confused! It's doing my head in!'
'You are fucking joking me,' I deadpanned, utterly beyond belief now. I was even beyond disbelief.
'Again,' Luke all but snarled. 'Why on earth would I do that?'
'You're telling me that James and Dom told you that I told them that I wanted to be with you?'
What the actual, genuine, LITERAL fuck.
I could've totally flown off the handle and screamed and stomped my foot for real or raged, but I didn't. I was actually very impressed with myself. I just stared impassively at Luke, gathering my thoughts before they started going haywire and sending themselves into a panicked, frenzy state, slamming all of my mental self-destruct buttons to terminate the mess that was my life.
End it early guys, I beg you.
'Right. Can you tell me exactly, with precise wording if you can remember, the time and the place in which this information was relayed to you?'
Luke stared at me as if I'd asked him to kiss the Giant Squid.
'I don't know … Dom said something about it two months ago? Maybe? And James came up to me like two or three days after you guys broke up …Right before he was with Flora, I think. He gave me his … his blessing. Told me we should be together if that's what made us happy. I dunno it was weird—I thought he'd cracked—but then I thought …'
'What?' I growled, unable to help the irritation rising coursing through my veins, despite my best (minimal) efforts. 'That it might be an interesting idea? That it would be a nice experiment to try dating Jenny?'
'No!' Luke said, appalled. 'For fuck's sake Jenny! Stop thinking the worst!'
HOW COULD I NOT WHEN LITERALLY THE WORST WAS HAPPENING.
'Yeah okay,' I said mutinously. 'Fine. You explain then. Tell me what you thought. I'm burning with curiosity.'
'Well—I thought you fancied me. Pretty unsurprising considering two people who know you very well told me the exact same thing! I thought maybe that's why you guys broke things off! I don't know! Is it so out of the realm of possibility?!'
'Yes! Yes it is! Have I ever shown interest in you like that?!'
'I don't know! I thought you did! And what if I like you?'
I tried to stamp my flaring temper. 'Luke, just use your brain and think for a second. Do you actually want to be with me? Or did James and Dom just plant the idea in your head?'
'I—well, you're my friend—you're attractive—'
'Yeah, okay, shut up you moron.'
Luke's bluster and bravado popped. His entire body seemed to deflate; shoulders slumped, expression falling. He stared at me, frowning. Something seemed to be happening inside his head. I waited patiently, drumming my fingers across my arm, only just stopping myself from tapping my foot in impatience.
He puffed his cheeks and blew the air out his mouth.
'Fuck. Fuck I don't know. I mean, I think I joked about it once—well not joked—Eddie Parry and I were talking and—well, I may have said you were the only person I'd see myself dating—' I narrowed my eyes into slits '—but I was just saying it to—say it—I don't fucking know—and then James just goes you can have her or whatever—she's all yours, that kind of shit—and then Dom tells me she thinks you might fancy me? And I was like, what the hell are they talking about? Jenelle? I mean—I thought he was obsessed with you!'
'So what I'm hearing, and you are struggling so brilliantly at articulating, is no. You don't fancy me. Which we already fucking knew.'
Luke let out a breathless laugh, a sudden, ridiculous sound.
It only made my fingers itch with anger.
'Wow,' he said loudly. 'Wow.'
'So James said that you could have me?' I demanded, ignoring his apparent internal struggle between relief that he didn't have to work out if liked me in a romantic way anymore, wondering what the he'd been doing for the past two weeks, trying to woo me, and, no doubt, trying not to hurt my feelings with his obvious sense of deliverance from this mess. 'Like I was something to be given? Something to be had?'
Luke's gaze, razor sharp, flicked up to meet mine, a flame of understanding kindling in his light blue-gold eyes.
'No … No, Jenny. It wasn't like that. Don't twist my words.'
'He clearly thought—thought that we should to be together—he was trying to make us happy—'
'He thought I cheated on him with you!' I roared, refusing to hear any form of vindication for James' actions. 'Dom told him that we were—that we wanted to be with each other—and he thought I cheated on him! He told you you could have me! That's what's going on Luke! Now you know everything that's going on with my life! Welcome to the Jenny Clarke Show—Savour How Normal And Not Messed Up Your Own Life Is By Watching Hers! Are you happy now?'
Luke opened his mouth, then closed it, eyes as wide as saucers.
'That's why James has been a complete shit to me these past few weeks! What the fuck! Why the fuck would Dom do that?'
'I don't know,' I hissed. 'I'm still working that one out myself.'
Luke turned abruptly, as if to walk away from me, but then spun back around on his heel, shoving both his hands into his dark gold hair, disbelief etched on every line of his narrow face.
'This is a total fucking shit show.'
'That I do know.'
He looked wildly up at me. 'Holy shit, Jenny. Holy shit. He broke up with you for no reason.'
My chest rose and fell rapidly, heaving for air.
'And … and Dom started all of this?'
'That's what I've been told!'
'But,' he blustered. 'Why did he believe her?'
I stared at him, gaze unflinching.
'That remains a mystery to us all. Five hundred galleons to who ever figures it out first!'
'Is that what this party's for?'
I considered this for a moment. Luke now knew the messed up network of lies that Dom had spun and the immature, unforgivable actions James had taken to apparently correct the non-existent mistakes he'd seen in his own private little world … would telling him that Freddie and I were planning this party, with the condition that we would all get caught and sent home, be that much worse?
I pursed my lips.
'Yep, sure is.'
'Okay … Merlin, okay …'
'So we're all sorted then? You're not going to flirt with me anymore? Because that was getting annoying. You're free. I'm free. We're friends, I love it that way, let's keep it that way … And Luke?' He looked at me, dazed. 'Whatever you do—don't be in this house at one.'
'I AM SO EXCITED I CAN'T BREATHE!'
I glared daggers into my tea, hands burning on the scalding mug.
'I CANT BREATHE GUYS!' Dom laughed maniacally and did a little dance, shimmying her hips.
'Then shut your mouth and use your nose,' Freddie snapped, equally as pissed as me.
Luke, lounging on the sofa, shot us all a nasty look. 'I'm trying to read. Keep it down.'
James, who had dozed off on the couch, an old copy of Quodpot & Quidditch splayed on his stomach, had nothing to say.
I decided I wasn't going to think about it anymore. I wasn't going to care about James, and his insane behaviour that just kept getting worse as this day ticked on, or Dom, who had spun so many lies, to me, to James, to Luke, that I had no idea what or who to believe, or Luke, who kept shooting me deeply apologetic glances, mouth turned down in a perpetual frown of unhappiness. I was going to just put it out of my mind.
I found that when I started caring, it turned into obsessive behaviour, and that was suffocating.
Caring was complicated.
As I stared at the contents of my mug, palms burnt numb from the heat, I couldn't help wonder why James had confronted Luke at all. Or why Dom had told him and Luke that I wanted to be with him. What the fuck was wrong with her? If I had harboured any doubt to whether James was telling the truth, Luke had annihilated it.
Why would two people lie about the same thing?
Honestly, why didn't James just believe whatever he wanted to, break up with me, and move on?
I knew what Flora said, about him looking and being finished and I knew I told Flora that he'd said, once, that he loved me, but that was only partly true.
He'd said it twice; once when he was so exhausted and we'd passed out in the Gryffindor common room sofa together, after a rough night of studying for our OWLs, and once again, plastered at our Quidditch Cup victory party.
But I didn't believe it, sorry.
Because love wasn't meant to be painful. Love wasn't meant to be a drunk comment, made in passing. Love wasn't meant to be a worn out whisper in the dark, arm curling around my waist. Love was supposed to be happy, to fill you up to the brim, tipping over the surface, unable to contain itself in joy.
I didn't think James was in love with me, despite whatever Flora said. Because people in love didn't do that to the people they loved.
'I CAN'T WAIT TO PARTAY!'
'Shut UP!' Freddie roared.
Dom obliged, but continued to twirl around the room, trying to force Luke to join her, who steadfastly refused.
'Dom, please stop being weird. You're freaking everyone out,' Luke said, edging away from her as she started to advance on him. 'I stand corrected. You're freaking me out. Specifically me—gah, Dom!'
Whilst the two of them wrestled with each other, Dom trying to give him a lap dance and Luke pushing her away, I turned to Freddie.
'The house is ready. I didn't tell Luke the specifics of what we were doing but—I had to tell him that he should leave at one. I couldn't do it.' Then my conscience overwhelmed me, mentally exhausting my conviction that what we we were doing was okay at all. 'This is the worst thing we've ever done, Freddie.'
He pressed his mouth into a thin line. 'You don't think I know that? I've been feeling sick all day … Inviting everyone to this party … seeing their stupid happy faces … I'm starting to think my ingenious ideas aren't so ingenious after all …'
'But we had to do this right?' I asked desperately, searching his eyes for confirmation. 'There was no other way?'
'I suppose we could've just asked Newton to leave … You know, faked some sort of post-dream emotional trauma …'
'I am emotionally traumatised!'
'So you think we should call the whole thing off?' Freddie said hopefully. 'Tell Flora not to warn Newton and Fig?'
I nodded eagerly. 'It's not worth it. I don't have to leave that bad! I mean—I'll still probably go to Newton and tell her I'm homesick or something and Flora will just—well, maybe I can tell Flora to do the same—'
'Yeah! Yeah!' Freddie nodded back in enthusiastic agreement. 'We're so stupid! Why didn't we think of that before?!'
'Because we're stupid!' I breathed happily. 'God! It's not like Newton would've forced us to stay! We didn't need ruin everyone's trip with a party and get them all fucked over! Freddie—they all know that we were the ones who planned it! They would've hated us regardless of whether or not we got caught!'
Freddie looked as though he'd been hit on the back of the head by a Bludger. He shook his head, dazed and amazed. 'Can't believe I hadn't thought of that before. Just asking Newton I mean.'
'I don't blame you—you usually tell us your crap ideas first before getting to the good ones.'
I smiled happily as the sick feeling of trepidation in my stomach vanished at once. I basked in the wave of relief that washed over me. No more thinking about the horror that would ensue when Newton and Fig descended on the group to send them back home with detention. No more guilt churning in my stomach. It would just be a stress and anxiety free party with my mates and best friend who was pathological liar!
'Oh my god,' I laughed breathlessly. I felt light—giddy. 'I can't believe we almost did that. How dramatic are we?'
'I mean, your best friend did lie to you and break up your relationship over jealousy so … I'd wager a lot.'
I shot Freddie a dark look that promised death.
I took this opportunity to quickly and quietly tell him what had transpired at the house with Luke. How Dom had told him too that I wanted to be with him, how he thought maybe he'd try to romance me, how he kissed me, and how I was probably going to self-destruct before the party even happened so who cared, right?
Freddie's mouth hung open. 'You need to find Newton and tell her you have to leave today.'
'No,' I said stubbornly. 'I'm going to get story straight from Dom. And then I'll leave.'
'DOM! Stop!' Luke shouted, but the effect was diminished by the fear in his voice. 'Let's finish our star Charm!' he said frantically, trying to push her away. 'We need to get it done!'
Dom finally stopped teasing Luke, who was positively red in the face, and brushed her rose gold hair out of her grinning face.
'Okay, fine! We just need to do the Bluebell and reparo right—wait, why is James still sleeping?' She kicked his leg, hard.
James woke up instantly and blearily blinked at Dom, rubbing his sore leg, scowling. 'What the fuck?'
'Come on then,' Freddie said, getting up from the kitchen barstool. 'We don't have much time before tonight.'
Twenty minutes later, the entire plan had changed.
Freddie had had a sudden spurt of inspiration and thought Bluebell Flames were elementary. So he set about explaining to Dom—as Luke, disgruntled and grumbling, set about rejoining the hundreds of halves of the spherical glass spheres Oliver Gamble had spent all day splitting—how to Charm them to glow instead. James, in the meantime, was in the kitchen working on a way for the glass balls to only light up in the dark. He'd explained the concept earlier but it was all very complicated so I stopped paying attention. So, really, I had no idea what he was doing.
And how was I contributing to this affair, you ask?
Why, with my words of motivation of course!
'This is all completely unnecessary,' I said, leafing absently through James' Quodpot & Quidditch, lounging on the sofa. 'Our other idea was just as good.'
'Just as good isn't good enough!' Freddie snapped.
'This idea better be worth an Order of Merlin,' Luke muttered darkly.
As they slaved away, Dom filled the silence with babble of all the gossip she'd picked up today. Meaningless chatter that was essential to living in Hogwarts, for example who fancied who, or who's dad was a former Death Eater, who slept with who, rumours spreading at Hogwarts that were no doubted started here, etcetera, etcetera.
Like that, the four of them worked for the next hour until their fingers were sore from Charming all the glass balls. Freddie and James were hunched over the kitchen counter, working out whatever it was they were doing, and Dom, finally exhausted from making every single glass ball glow like a flare of white light, flopped back, massaging her wand hand. Luke, equally as spent, laid back with her. They murmured in conversation, looking closer to each other than they had in days. But it wasn't until Freddie cried, 'Eureka!' that we finally felt good enough to start getting ready.
'You figured it out then?' I asked, getting up and stretching my sore, deeply relaxed limbs.
'Yes!' he said excitedly. 'This is going to be so cool!'
I rolled my eyes. He was such a nerd.
'Come on,' urged Dom. Excitement glittered in her eyes. 'Time to get ready. Again!'
6/9/17: Totally forgot to write an AN for this chapter, but I'm doing it now even though I don't think I really need to anymore haha. I just remember thinking I was going to say I wasn't that happy with this chapter, so forgive me for it, but I've read the reviews you guys have given me so far and it's safe to say you've all absolutely just ... obliterated that feeling completely with your kind words and positive feedback.
Sometimes it's so hard to know if what you've written is okay or total rubbish so I just want to say a HUGE, massive thank you to anyone and everyone who's written me a review, who's read this story, who's read The Wild Youth and come back, and everyone who's favourited. It all means so much—genuinely beyond description—and you guys have absolutely no idea how much I love, love, love, reading all your reviews and responding to them. I was feeling the dull wave of writers block pulling me uunder, but reading all your wonderful comments has reiginted my drive!
Well done for getting through this essay (Jen's not the only one who can give a good meglomanaical speech) lol.
Love always, P xx
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